A friend of mine invited me over to his house for dinner.  As I drove into his neighborhood, it was apparent by the size and quality of the homes, he was a very successful entrepreneur.

His wife met me at the front door, showed me into their home and we proceeded to enjoy some great food.  After dinner, my friend (let’s call him Chuck) invites me outside for an after dinner cigar.   As we are enjoying a fine smoke and Chuck is checking his stocks in the Wall Street Journal he says to me, “Hey, you want to see something really fierce?”  He had my curiosity, so I said, “Sure!”

Leading me to the very back part of his property, he takes me to a small fenced-in area that houses a large pit bull.  The dog is very well cared for and is fully grown.  It was wearing a large leather collar covered with small spikes; a very menacing sight!  As I approach the edge of the fence, Chuck says, “look at this beast, I let him out to roam the property when we go to sleep and I’m traveling for business.  He keeps all the bad guys away!”

At that same moment, the dog sees me and rushes the fence, barking, snarling, and growling.  Even with a fence between us, I freeze.  The dog continues to bark at me, when Chuck takes the newspaper he had been reading, reaches into the cage, slaps the dog across the face and yells, “Shut up!”  

I abhor violence toward animals.  As a matter of fact, I asked Chuck, "Hey, isn't that what you want him to do?

That's when I realized...

This is exactly how we treat our warriors at times!

We want them for protection.  We love to show our support of them, especially when they choose to do the things that many of us are afraid to do.  As a nation, we train them for confrontation.  We arm them with the finest weapons.  We feed them and exercise them, so that they can endure the harshest of environments.  We even cheer them when they parade in front of us.  But the minute they step out of line and do the things they were trained to do, we “slap them across the face.” This slap is not with a newspaper, but more commonly it takes the form of social ostracization, reduced civilian employment opportunities, and most harshly, it comes as heavy-handed judicial punishment for criminal activity.  

Now don’t get me wrong here.  I am all for justice for crimes committed.  The point I’m trying to highlight here is, I believe, there is a harsher level of punishment given out for our veterans when it comes to breaking the law.  In May of 2007, The Bureau of Justice Statistics released a report that demonstrated Veterans had “shorter criminal records than nonveterans in State prisons, but reported longer prison sentences and expected to serve more time in prison than nonveterans. Nearly a third of veterans and a quarter of nonveterans were first-time offenders. The average maximum sentence reported by veterans in State prison (147 months) was 2 years longer than that of nonveterans (119 months). On average, veterans expected to serve 22 months longer than nonveterans (112 months compared to 90 months)."  Now, I never claimed to be a psychologist, but it doesn’t take a Ph. D. to realize that “adrenaline poisoning” is involved here.  Additional studies show that when you compare veterans who screened for PTSD, those who screened positive reported a greater variety of traumas; more serious current legal problems; a higher lifetime use of alcohol, cocaine, and heroin; higher recent expenditures on drugs; more psychiatric symptoms; and worse general health despite more previous psychiatric and medical treatment as well as treatment for substance abuse.”  This is why many states are taking up a new entity called Veteran’s Courts.

What are Veterans Courts, you might ask?  An article on slate.com says it this way.  “The first Veterans' Court was launched in Buffalo,N.Y. by Judge Robert Russell. His program was based on the various "problem-solving" courts around the country, ranging from specialized drug courts (first launched in 1989) to mental health and domestic violence courts. Drug courts, for instance, integrate treatment with justice-system case management and closely supervise and monitor participants; studies show that they have decreased recidivism (repeat offender) rates as well as the rates of incarceration. In recent testimony before the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Russell testified that his program teams veterans guilty of nonviolent felony or misdemeanor offenses with volunteer veteran mentors, requiring them to adhere to a strict schedule of rehabilitation programs and court appearances. One hundred twenty veterans are enrolled in the Buffalo program, and 90 percent of graduates have successfully completed the program. The recidivism rate is zero. Since the Buffalo experiment launched, 22 other cities and counties have created their own Veterans Courts along similar lines.”  

I think this is a great step, but I would like more people to realize that warriors need this type of program, especially in first offense violent crimes!  The skill sets that kept them alive in combat are the same ones that have gotten them into trouble.  More times than not, the violent actions that have landed them behind bars are accompanied by alcohol and drug use; common means of self-medication used by the undiagnosed, harboring the destructive grip of “adrenaline poisoning.”  Resisting or hiding from trauma treatment, for fear it will "hurt the warriors' careers," is the real problem in this scenario.  This is a breed of individual that has been trained to fight through pain and hide weaknesses.  Veterans Courts are already springing up all over the country and are producing some promising results.  I don’t know why anyone would be surprised by this fact, as our warriors are very good at training and following procedures.  Maybe the real injustice here is a lack of training on how to leave the armed service?  Maybe we are not giving them the tools they need to integrate back into peacetime?

In a time when our country needs any competitive advantage possible, we need to realize that this incredible pool of talent is slowly slipping through our grasp.  Our young men and women in uniform have amassed a wealth of useful skills that most employers dream about; namely loyalty, integrity, working under constant pressure, and the ability to lead.  We know that the nightmares, the hypervigilance, and the avoidance behaviors can be modified with different types of treatment, therapy, and training.  My question is simple, do you think they need an additional level of support, or dare I ask, a second chance?

If you’re with me, then we need to realize that creating a mindset that supports a “second chance” for our veterans is best grown at the grass roots level.  Jury members will decide the fate of those warriors that will end up in our correctional systems.  Talk to your local leaders about these ideas.  Talk to your congressmen and senators that may be in a position to support additional funding for Veterans Courts.  The timing may be perfect!    

Take Away

We like our lives, we enjoy our freedoms, and we love to support our troops.

But when our troops do those ugly things that we trained them to do, are we empathetic to why they act that way, or is it easier to “slap them on the face” and punish them like an animal in a cage?

Warrior, out!

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